Purpose: Caspase-14 is unique among caspase family proteases in that its proteolytic processing has been principally associated with epithelial cell differentiation rather than apoptosis or inflammation. We investigated caspase-14 expression in several types of human epithelial malignancy by immunohistochemistry, correlating results with stage, histologic grade, and patient survival.
Experimental design: Tumor-associated alterations in caspase-14 expression were observed for cervical, ovarian, breast, gastric, and colon cancers.
Results: In cervical (n = 445), ovarian (n = 91), and colon (n = 106) specimens, expression of caspase-14 was significantly reduced in cancers compared with normal epithelium. Decreases in caspase-14 immunopositivity correlated with the histologic progression of cervical cancer (P < 0.0001, ANOVA). In localized gastric cancers, caspase-14 immunostaining was significantly lower in poorly differentiated tumors compared with well-differentiated tumors (P = 0.02, Pearson's chi(2) analysis). Lower caspase-14 expression was associated with advanced clinical stage in ovarian cancer (P = 0.04, ANOVA) and with shorter overall survival among ovarian cancer patients with serous tumors (n = 62) in both univariate (P = 0.005) and multivariate (P = 0.03) analysis. Lower caspase-14 expression correlated with shorter overall survival among patients with T(3)N(0)M(0) stage gastric cancers (n = 94; P = 0.006, log-rank test). In contrast to cervical, ovarian, and colon cancers, caspase-14 expression was increased in ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive cancers compared with normal mammary epithelium (P = 0.001, t test).
Conclusions: The findings reveal tumor-specific alterations in caspase-14 expression and suggest that differences in its expression may define subsets of epithelial cancers with distinct clinical behaviors.